Paul Phelan/CAIRNS

Qantas is finalising a deal to take up to seven surplus Boeing 767-300ERs from its oneworld partner and shareholder British Airways, to help it boost capacity ahead of next year's Sydney Olympics. The airline is also moving to counter a successful initiative by competitor Air New Zealand on trans-Tasman routes.

The Rolls-Royce RB211-524-powered 767s are among 28 examples operated by BA, and are being returned to their owners/financiers as part of the UK's airline capacity cutback strategy. Qantas is finalising plans to take between six and seven examples, from early next year.

The R-R engines make the aircraft unique among 767s, with China Yunnan Airlines the only other operator of the engine/type mix. Although Qantas' 28-strong 767 fleet is Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered and General Electric CF6-powered, the BA 767s will share engine commonality with Qantas' RB211-powered 747-400 fleet.

The additional 767 capacity will ease the problems Qantas is already experiencing through slot rationing on its high-density Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane services, where the carrier has already been replacing 767s with smaller Boeing 737s in peak periods. Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has made significant gains in the trans-Tasman markets, by increasing frequencies of direct flights between Australian and New Zealand cities, using its new fleet of 737-300s. The addition of 767 capacity will liberate Qantas' 737-300/400s to match its competitor's strategy.

Qantas has not confirmed the 767 deal, but it is now likely to receive added impetus from Virgin's announcement of plans for an Australian domestic start-up. The carrier has also moved briskly to counter plans by Impulse Airlines (Flight International, 3-9 November) to establish a jet hub at its Newcastle base.

It plans to introduce daily Qantas Airlink jet services from Newcastle to Brisbane and Melbourne from early next year, using BAe 146s wet-leased from Adelaide-based National Jet Systems. This deal will bring to 14 the number of BAe 146s which provide similar services on its regional and route development networks.

Airlink has repeatedly been put forward as a possible low-cost 737 operator for Qantas, with pilot sources having been "sounded out" on possible changes to the way the 737 fleet is operated.

Source: Flight International